First impressions: 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A zoom lens

For the walking-around photography I often do, I like 28-80mm or 35-70mm zoom lenses. They’re like having three or four prime lenses on hand, but without having to dismount one lens to mount another. Their maximum apertures aren’t as wide as the primes they replace — f/3.5 or f/4, rather than f/1.7 or f/1.4. Fortunately, I commonly shoot at f/8 to f/16 when I’m walking about in daylight, so that’s no big deal.

I’ve long wanted such a zoom lens for my manual-focus Pentax SLRs. I recently bought a 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A lens because I got a good one at a good price ($44 shipped) on eBay. I liked that it was a twist zoom rather than a pump zoom. I find twist zooms to handle a little more easily.

I took my Pentax ME SE and this lens along on a recent road trip up the Michigan Road to South Bend. Unfortunately, the lens made the ME SE front heavy, which detracted from this camera’s usual easy handling. I probably should have mounted it to my larger and heavier Pentax KM instead. But what was done was done, and I pressed on with a fresh roll of Fujicolor 200. Still, I always carried this kit in my hand, strap dangling. That tells me it wasn’t too heavy.

This lens suffers from a common malady among short-range zoom lenses: barrel distortion at the wide end. This photo shows it a little.

Liquor store

Fortunately, that’s easy enough to correct in Photoshop, which I did on all of the rest of the images so affected.

Purple building in Plymouth

The lens doesn’t stay perfectly focused when you zoom. The amount of needed refocusing is tiny, however. You don’t need to correct it except when depth of field is shallow.

Sycamore Row

At 70mm, this lens focuses to four inches. What a nice touch. The lens focuses close at all focal lengths, but I didn’t check to see whether it’s consistently four inches, and I couldn’t find authoritative info on the Internet about it.


On this photo, the sun was off to my left and created a little flare. I suppose I could look for a hood to fit this lens’s 58mm filter threads.

State Theater, Logansport

I am satisfied with the lens’s sharpness.

Michigan Road historic marker

The 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A is a solid, well-made lens. My copy is still well screwed together and tight. It handled and performed adequately.


This was the fourth roll of film I put through this Pentax ME SE, which I bought somewhat impulsively as I have a perfectly good regular Pentax ME. I’ll review the ME SE soon.

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10 responses to “First impressions: 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A zoom lens”

  1. Steve Mitchell Avatar

    Looks like a nice lens – my favourite on the Contax is the 28-85, does probably 90% of what I need!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      28-85 sounds like an incredibly useful range.

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    The interesting thing about this lens is the 35mm on the wide end. When it comes to wide angles and 35mm, I think, like many others, the 35mm is my “normal”, and a lens I usually have glued on the camera. But unfortunately, the 70mm is nothing for me, 85mm being the minimum I would consider using for a short portrait lens. Even the modern, sharp, 24-70mm’s most pros consider their “money” lens, the 50mm to 70mm setting is generally “meh”, and wasted for me (and really, a lot of guys that own one tell me they rarely use 50-70 anyway).

    There was a time when lens manufactures made a short range zoom that seemed more usable to the average shooter. In the 80’s, I had a Tamron that seemed no larger and heavier than a fast 50mm; the 35mm to 85mm zoom. You could really take a decent portrait with this lens, and the wide end was in my range for about 90% of my needs. This really was a golden lens, and it’s amazing to me that most manufacturers don’t make one this size and give up the real usable portrait side to go wider in the 24-28 size, which is very much less usable for me.

    For professional assignments, generally everything can be covered by the 35-85mm. When I need wider or longer, I’m trying to get an “effect”, and generally need way wider or way longer, like a 20mm or 300mm. I think manufacturers really need to get back to making the 35-85.

    BTW Jim, someone gave me a Pentax Tak 28mm to 80mm zoom. The glass looks really good, but the whole lens in loose and needs either tightening or repacking. I can’t be sure the mechanics are working well either. I really don’t know a Pentax lens guy (does Hendrickson work on lenses too?). I might fix this if I can find a guy, but I can’t seem to find a good review of this lens. Any info on the Jim?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Really, a 35-70 zoom is just a set of normal lenses. You can argue that 35, 50, and 70mm are all essentially normal focal lengths.

      I use a 28-80 zoom on my Nikon Df a lot. The 28mm end doesn’t get a ton of play from me.

      A 35-85 that is about the same size as a 50mm prime sounds heavenly.

      You might look at these guys to repair your Takumar:

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        Thanks for the lead….

    2. Jerome Avatar

      Sounds like a nice lens. Looking at my behavior, I have developed a preference for the 28-85mm for my manual Minolta cameras and 28-105mm for the AF cameras. Fortunately, both lenses are very sharp with great color capture. The 28-105mm is scarce, but more of the 28-85mm are appearing on eBay these days, maybe one or two each month.

  3. Jens Knappe Avatar
    Jens Knappe

    Habe das SMC-A 35-70mm f4 jetzt einige Monate.
    Es ist besonders gut bei 40mm und außerdem bei allen Brennweiten ist es ein Makroobjektiv, so nah kann man fokussieren.
    Bei 40mm ist es besser als das berühmt SMC-M 40mm f2.8.
    Außerdem ist das Objektiv einigermaßen kompakt, sodass man es immer in der Fototasche mitnehmen kann.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It is indeed very nice that this lens lets you focus so closely at all focal lengths. That makes this lens extra versatile.

      Interesting that you like this lens on the Pentax ME/ME Super. I find this lens is a little large and heavy for the compact ME body. It feels much more balanced on my Pentax KM (which is the same body as the K1000).

  4. Jens Knappe Avatar
    Jens Knappe

    Ich muss noch hinzufügen :
    Wie Steve Mitchell verwende ich das Zoom nur an Filmkameras, nämlich an der Pentax, ME, MEsuper, Program A und an der P30.

  5. stuart macdonald Avatar
    stuart macdonald

    hi just picked up a 35 to 70mm f4 along with a pentax super a body from ebay
    so we will see how this performs with b/w film in it

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